greenSTEM Network, an initiative of the Philadelphia Water Department, has been working hard to get the project moving after selecting the winner’s of its student challenge on April 11.
The greenSTEM challenge was a student design competition in three Philadelphia schools to create artistic, original garden enclosures to protect low-cost, DIY sensor kits (named Root Kits) that display real-time environmental data such as soil moisture, precipitation, sunlight, and temperature.
The winning designs include a sword in the stone from Greenfield Elementary, a spider from Nebinger Elementary, and a futuristic dome from Cook-Wissahickon Elementary. View the students drawings here.
Drawing of the winning project from Greenfield Elementary students
Winning students from the schools attended a build day at Fairmount Water Works on April 22.
“We brought in materials such as modeling clay, paints, pipe cleaners, and plastic bowls and let the students make decisions about how to bring their designs to life. The winning student from Nebinger made a spider out of a football – it kind of looks like a black widow spider,” said Matthew Fritch, an environmental engineer with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) who helps lead the project.
“I think it’s important that we incorporate art into the project—you can engage students who may not necessarily be interested in circuit boards or soil data or gardening,” Fritch added.
Winning student from Nebinger Elementary works on the sensor covering
Two sets of sensors were installed last week: the light up dome with fiberoptic lights illuminate whenever the sensors take readings at Cook-Wissahickon and the black widow spider at Nebinger Elementary school.
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Root Kit at Cook-Wissahickon
Fritch said there’s still some things left to tweak, but he’s hoping to get students involved in helping them solve some of the issues that arise.
“We are still tweaking the sensors and setup. Sometimes the data transmission is sporadic, sometimes unforeseen stuff happens like a student in the playground bumps the sensor kit, or two wires cross and a battery dies, or the wifi connection cuts out. I don’t worry– it is all part of the process, and hopefully we can even involve the students in helping us troubleshoot problems.”
In addition, the greenSTEM team has been working with students from SLA Beeber to build the two main parts of the root kits: the circuit board (a JeeNode, which is a low-cost, low-power microcontroller with a radio transceiver) that controls the sensors, and the artistic housing that will cover the Root Kit outside in the garden.
The students have also been working on their two housing designs: an eyeball, and a crashed rocketship. This week they’re finishing up the fifth and last sensor kit.
Students work on the housing for one of the sensors built by SLA Beeber
Fritch also said they are treating the project as if the class was an actual company working to produce the sensor kits.
“We are in the mindset that the class is a company that must produce the sensor kit: Design it, build it, install it, calibrate it, and demonstrate it to other students. We’re working on a DIY instruction manual to put on the greenSTEM website so students anywhere can build Root Kits, download the software, and make the project their own,” said Fritch.
“I love this part of the project: You can make cool tech education software, fancy websites with tricked-out graphics, whatever—but students learn nothing unless they make things, make mistakes, run into problems, and figure out how to move forward.”
Next steps for the project include installing the sensor kit at Greenfield Elementary, which is scheduled for today, May 29. In addition, the greenSTEM team will be adding new features to the tree animation, which displays sensor data from each of the schools, and they are also working on an online portal for teachers and students to sign in and download the data to analyze.
(Images c/o GreenSTEM Network)-30-
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